With November’s midterm elections less than six weeks away, President Biden is aiming to boost his party as Democrats try to defend their razor-thin majorities in Congress and strive to pick up ground in the battle for the states.
“We’ve got to win. We have got to win,” the president said to cheers from a crowd of supporters on Wednesday night.
However, Biden’s comments did not come on the campaign trail.
Instead, the president was in the nation’s capital, headlining a fundraising reception for the Democratic Governors Association.
With his approval ratings rebounding but still in negative territory, Biden is campaigning far from the key swing states where the battle for the House and Senate is playing out, and instead is stumping from the White House, using the power of the bully pulpit, and filling a regular role for presidents – as fundraiser in chief for his party.
It is a different role for a politician who for decades has been a road warrior for Democrats on the campaign trail. The then-former vice president crisscrossed the country for Democrats during the 2018 midterms, as his party stormed back to win the House majority. Biden’s current schedule sits in stark contrast with his predecessor in the White House, as former President Trump teams up at rallies on a near weekly basis with Republicans running in crucial midterm contests.
The president headlined a Democratic National Committee rally in blue state Maryland last month and traveled to the crucial battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on Labor Day, teaming up with Democratic incumbents and candidates at a pair of campaign style events. He blasted Republicans during a prime-time speech outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the beginning of the month.
However, a DNC rally Biden was supposed to headline this week in Florida was canceled as Hurricane Ian smashed into the Sunshine State. Additionally, most of Biden’s time on the campaign circuit has been relegated to speaking at fundraisers, helping his party raise the money needed to compete in the midterms.
“Thanks in a large part to engagement from President Biden, the DNC has raised over $107 million so far this year – the most at this point in any year. This is also the DNC’s best midterm year for grassroots fundraising ever. This overwhelming show of support reflects the broad level of excitement and support for President Biden’s agenda,” a party official told Fox News.
The fundraising has allowed the DNC to invest at least $70 million in the states this cycle, a major boost from their investments during the 2018 midterms.
Democrats also argue that Biden’s already made a major difference in close races, even while treading gingerly on the campaign trail. They point to the slew of high-profile legislative victories for congressional Democrats and the president during the late summer – policy wins that strategists say have given Democratic incumbents plenty of ammunition as they fight to win re-election.
“The president understands the politics of these races vary. He wants to do whatever is most helpful to the folks on the ground. And if that means making calls and raising money from Washington, then that’s what he’ll do. But I think in some places if that means flying in and doing the rallies, he’ll do that do,” a strategist in Biden’s political orbit told Fox News. “There’s no ego in it for him. His goal is to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.”
The president has also been slinging arrows at “MAGA Republicans,” whom he argues have embraced “semi-fascism” due to their continued loyalty to Trump, who remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP. Biden’s aggressive language appears to be a move to alter the midterms narrative from a referendum on the president and congressional Democrats and their record steering the country — amid record inflation, soaring crime, and a border crisis — to a choice election between Biden and Trump and a battle to save democracy.
Biden is far from the campaign trail though, where his presence could do more damage than good for fellow Democrats facing challenging re-elections.
When asked if she would like to see Biden join her on the campaign trail in the key swing state of New Hampshire as she runs for re-election, former governor and first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan told Fox News earlier this month that “my job is to be an independent voice for New Hampshire. That’s the role I’ve always worked to play and be for Granite Staters.”
Republicans have heavily targeted Hassan, who for months has spotlighted her policy differences with the White House. The senator added at the end of her answer that “the President of the United States is always welcome in New Hampshire.”
This week, when asked by reporters if he would like to be joined on the campaign trail by any national Democrats – such as the president – first-term Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock quickly pivoted and said “regardless of who else comes to Georgia, or doesn’t come, at the end of the day the people of Georgia have a very clear choice between me and [GOP Senate challenger] Herschel Walker. That’s who’s running.”
Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, noted that “President Biden understands that with his low approval ratings, that going out on the trail is not necessarily going to benefit members of his party. Although it probably personally is upsetting to him, he’s a pro, and he understands that he needs to campaign from the White House.”
To a lesser degree, then-President Trump faced a similar predicament during the 2018 midterm elections, as Republicans running in blue or purple states were anything but enthused to share the stage with an unpopular president.
Fast-forward four years, and Trump is busy hitting the campaign trail, aiming to energize his party’s conservative base and boost some of the candidates he endorsed during this year’s GOP primaries.
While Trump will take credit if the GOP wins back majorities in one or both houses of Congress, his political clout is on the line – and his strong odds of winning the 2024 Republican presidential nomination may suffer – if some of his handpicked candidates go down to defeat in November. Levesque noted that the former president’s rallies are more about Trump and are “not necessarily about getting Republicans elected to office.”
While Trump has repeatedly played the role of GOP kingmaker, making endorsements all the way down the ballot to state legislative and even local races, Biden by contrast has kept his powder dry when it comes to weighing in during the Democratic primaries and even during the general election. While the then-former vice president made well over 100 endorsements during the 2018 cycle and nearly 50 during the 2020 cycle as presidential candidate and later as his party’s standard-bearer, the now-president has only endorsed nine candidates this cycle.
A problem that both Biden and Trump share is that they are incredibly polarizing. While both enjoy strong approval and favorable ratings among their respective parties, they’re both underwater among the other party and with independents.
How that factor – and how their very divergent campaigning strategies play out during the midterms – and which proves more successful – are questions that will be answered in November.